Wednesday, May 18, 2022

World must not forget Afghanistan because of Ukraine war, says UN

The United Nations and other global aid agencies have said that more than half of Afghanistan's 38 million people are facing hunger this winter.

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine must not make the world forget Afghanistan, the UN refugee chief said on Tuesday, warning that ignoring its humanitarian needs could be very risky.

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, who is on a four day visit to Afghanistan, said the international community must continue to engage with the Taliban authorities as Afghanistan desperately needs humanitarian assistance.

“The whole attention of the world at the moment is focused on Ukraine,” Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, told AFP at a UN compound in the Afghan capital.

“But my message coming here is, don’t forget the other situations, where attention and resources are needed and Afghanistan is one of them.

“The risks of distraction are very high, very high… Humanitarian assistance has to flow no matter how many other crises compete with Afghanistan around the world.”

Donor countries, UN agencies and Afghan civil society are set to take part in an online fund raising event this month. The summit would focus on delivering food, shelter and health services, particularly for women and girls.

The Taliban seized power on Aug 15 amid a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces, and since then the country’s humanitarian crisis has deepened.

The United Nations and other global aid agencies have said that more than half of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are facing hunger this winter.

In January, the UN made its biggest-ever single-country aid appeal, calling for US$5 billion to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

But Grandi said that the war in Ukraine has already started to make it difficult to raise funds for Afghanistan.

The UNHCR itself had made an appeal of US$340 million for Afghanistan for 2022 but so far has managed to raise only about US$100 million, he said.

‘Generous response’ needed

“So, we need to push because the needs are the same now as they were in September” just after the Taliban takeover, Grandi said.

“Generous response has to continue” for Afghanistan, he said, a country that has millions of its citizens living as refugees in neighbouring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

Grandi, who acknowledged that the security situation across the country had improved since the Taliban came to power, said that aid related discussions with the Islamists have been increasingly “frank and open”.

Since the Taliban stormed back to power, about 200,000 internally displaced people have also returned to their homes thanks to improved security, he said.

And if the Taliban continue to make progress on issues like women’s rights, then steady international aid will also continue to come to Afghanistan, Grandi added.

Global donors led by Washington have insisted that any foreign aid will depend on the Taliban’s policy when it comes to women’s rights to education and work.

Since coming to power the Taliban have imposed several restrictions on women, but officials have said that secondary schools for girls would reopen soon.

“We will see in few days when schools reopen, then the international community will take note,” Grandi said.

“When 25 years ago this country fell off the radar screen, it ended very badly … we can not go down the same road. I hope that common sense will prevail,” he said, referring to a brutal civil war of the 1990s and the ensuing first term of the Taliban that lasted until 2001 when they were toppled by US-led forces after the September 11 attacks.

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